Andre Matos, at 27, is the latest young guitarist to take aim at the international jazz scene from the strategic port of Lisbon and its effervescent Tone of a Pitch imprint. Like his labelmates, Matos is a free thinker. He combines modern jazz with the attitude, mood and tinge of modern rock and creates what could be termed "alternative" jazz, but not the kind that manipulates Nirvana covers. Both in writing and execution, Matos takes more than literal ownership of his alternative.
The most obvious difference between this and some of the other stellar TOAP dates, is the presence of a vocalist, the remarkable Sara Serpa. With four new releases hitting almost simultaneouslyincluding a brilliant debut recording, she makes an unexpected and deceptively simple bid to challenge nothing less than the very concept of the role of a jazz vocalist in a small ensemble. Serpa doesn't sing songs as much as she becomes part of them, using no lyrics, with a natural vocalese that cannot be called scatting. Singing as any front-line member of the ensemble would play, she moves effortlessly from melodist to soloist to ensemble voice.
Matos plays a huge part in her working band, and she in his, with each composing all the songs on their new releases. The first and last tracks of this session will reveal that Matos' writing can be differentiated by texture and mood. There's occasional heaviness or darkness that can be lifted, as on "Serra De Sintra," which sounds like the soundtrack for encountering the lush, haunting mountain range for which it's named. When Serpa unleashes guttural gyrations near at the midpoint of the journey, she remains spellbinding. "Moody" recalls the work of Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder, who specialize in transforming darkness to light, as Serpa's melody does to Matos' underpinnings. Demian Cebaud's multi-tracked bass bowing and plucking add another lush, yet oblique, angle to the arc of this song.
Without a vocalist, we're indoctrinated into "Lisboa for Beginners" which sets a stirring mood that takes its time, embracing and inviting, as Matos summons with chords and Alex Frazao exhorts with drums. Landing in the welcoming but intense arms of Albert Sanz' piano, sensory ruminations turn into sensual counterpoint. Sanz' rejoinder allows the arc of Matos' short solo to resolve the travelogue.
"Rosa-Shock" is hot pink, a rock band laying it on thick over a six minute ostinato, with Matos taking it into the stratosphere with some distortion and the tasteful use of a harmonizer pedal.
"Suitcase" is gorgeously deceptive, as Serpa merely states a melody that repeats every eight bars, but over a different harmony. Sanz, never in a rush, packs dense information into his discerning choices, raising the lyricism quotient. Matos' improvisation then entwines with Sepra's restatement of the melody, providing a half-spontaneous etude, which is a telling highlight.
Because if Serpa's Praia
and this recording by Matos are any indication, their dance should continue to be fruitful, surprising and enticing for years to come.